Greek rhetorician and writer (436–338 BC)

Isocrates (436–338 BC), an ancient Greek rhetorician, was one of the ten Attic orators. Among the most influential Greek rhetoricians of his time, Isocrates made many contributions to rhetoric and education through his teaching and written works.

Of all our possessions, wisdom alone is immortal.


Isokratous Apanta, 1570
  • So far has Athens left the rest of mankind behind in thought and expression that her pupils have become the teachers of the world, and she has made the name of Hellas distinctive no longer of race but of intellect, and the title of Hellene a badge of education rather than of common descent.
    • Panegyricus, 50.
  • ἃ πάσχοντες ὑφʹ ἑτέρων ὀργίζεσθε, ταῦτα τοὺς ἄλλους μὴ ποιεῖτε.
    • What thou thyself hatest, do to no man.
      • Nicocles or the Cyprians, 3.61
  • Argos is the land of your fathers.
    • To Philip, 5.32 (Loeb, G. Norlin).
  • Therefore, since the others are so lacking in spirit, I think it is opportune for you to head the war against the King; and, while it is only natural for the other descendants of Heracles, and for men who are under the bonds of their polities and laws, to cleave fondly to that state in which they happen to dwell, it is your privilege, as one who has been blessed with untrammeled freedom, to consider all Hellas (Greece) your fatherland, as did the founder of your race, and to be as ready to brave perils for her sake as for the things about which you are personally most concerned.
    • To Philip, 5.127 (Loeb).
  • … all men will be grateful to you: the Hellenes (Greeks) for your kindness to them and the rest of the nations, if by your hands they are delivered from barbaric despotism and are brought under the protection of Hellas.
    • To Philip, 5.154 (Loeb)

To Demonicus

Ad Demonicum, as translated in Isocrates with an English Translation by George Norlin (1923) - Fragments of a Latin translation
  • Never hope to conceal any shameful thing which you have done; for even if you do conceal it from others, your own heart will know. … Pursue the enjoyments which are of good repute; for pleasure attended by honor is the best thing in the world, but pleasure without honor is the worst.
    • Verse 16.
  • Guard yourself against accusations, even if they are false; for the multitude are ignorant of the truth and look only to reputation. In all things resolve to act as though the whole world would see what you do; for even if you conceal your deeds for the moment, later you will be found out. But most of all will you have the respect of men, if you are seen to avoid doing things which you would blame others for doing.
    • Verse 17.
  • Ἐὰν ᾖς φιλομαθής, ἔσει πολυμαθής
    • If you are fond of learning, you will soon be full of learning.
      • 18
  • If you love knowledge, you will be a master of knowledge. What you have come to know, preserve by exercise; what you have not learned, seek to add to your knowledge; for it is as reprehensible to hear a profitable saying and not grasp it as to be offered a good gift by one's friends and not accept it. Spend your leisure time in cultivating an ear attentive to discourse, for in this way you will find that you learn with ease what others have found out with difficulty.
    • Verse 18.
  • Believe that many precepts are better than much wealth; for wealth quickly fails us, but precepts abide through all time; for wisdom alone of all possessions is imperishable. Do not hesitate to travel a long road to those who profess to offer some useful instruction; for it were a shame, when merchants cross vast seas in order to increase their store of wealth, that the young should not endure even journeys by land to improve their understanding.
    • Verse 19; variant translation: Of all our possessions, wisdom alone is immortal.
      • As quoted in Dictionary of Quotations (Classical) (1906), edited by Thomas Benfield Harbottle, p. 495.
  • The greatest thing in the small compass is a sound mind in a human body. Strive with all your body to be a lover of toil, and with your soul to be a lover of wisdom, in order that with the one you may have the strength to carry out your resolves, and with the other the intelligence to foresee what is for your good.
    • Verse 40.
  • Always when you are about to say anything, first weigh it in your mind; for with many the tongue outruns the thought. Let there be but two occasions for speech — when the subject is one which you thoroughly know and when it one on which you are compelled to speak. On these occasions alone is speech better than silence; on all others, it is better to be silent than to speak.
    • Verse 41.
  • Consider that nothing in human life is stable; for then you will not exult overmuch in prosperity, nor grieve overmuch in adversity. Rejoice over the good things which come to you, but grieve in moderation over the evils which befall you, and in either case do not expose your heart to others; for it were strange to hide away one's treasure in the house, and yet walk about laying bare one's feelings to the world.
    • Verse 42.
  • Be more careful in guarding against censure than against danger; for the wicked may well dread the end of life, but good men should dread ignominy during life. Strive by all means to live in security, but if ever it falls to your lot to face the dangers of battle, seek to preserve your life, but with honour and not with disgrace; for death is the sentence which fate has passed on all mankind, but to die nobly is the special honour with nature has reserved for the good.
    • Verse 43.
  • Do not be surprised that many things which I have said do not apply to your at your present age. For I also have not overlooked this fact, but I have deliberately chosen to employ this one treatise, not only to convey to you advice for your life now, but also to leave with you precepts for the years to come; for you will then readily perceive the application of my precepts, but you will not easily find a man who will give you friendly counsel. In order, therefore, that you may not seek the rest from another source, but that you may draw from this as from a treasure-house, I thought that I ought not to omit any of the counsels which I have to give you.
    • Verse 44.
  • I shall be most grateful to the gods if I am not disappointed in the opinion which I have of you. For, while we find that the great majority of other men seek the society of those friends who join them in their follies and not of those to admonish them, just as they prefer the most pleasant to the most wholesome, you, I think, are minded otherwise as I judge from the industry you display in your general education. For when one sets for himself the highest standard of conduct, it is probable that in his relation to others he will approve only of those who exhort him to virtue. But most of all you would be spurred on to strive for noble deeds if you should realize that it is from them most of all that we also derive pleasure in the true sense. For while the result of indolence and love of surfeit is that pain follows on the heels of pleasure, on the other hand, devoted toil in the pursuit of virtue, and self-control in the ordering of one's life always yield delights that are pure and more abiding. In the former case we experience pain following upon pleasure, in the latter we enjoy pleasure after pain.
    • Verses 45-46.
  • With these examples before you, you should aspire to nobility of character, and not only abide by what I have said, but acquaint yourself with the best things in the poets as well, and learn from the other wise men also any useful lessons they have taught. For just as we see the bee settling on all the flowers, and sipping the best from each, so also those who aspire to culture ought not to leave anything untasted, but should gather useful knowledge from every source. For hardly even with these pains can they overcome the defects of nature.
    • Verses 51-52.


  • Democracy destroys itself because it abuses its right to freedom and equality. Because it teaches its citizens to consider audacity as a right, lawlessness as a freedom, abrasive speech as equality, and anarchy as progress.
    • A falsified quote invented during the 2010 financial crisis. [1] Isocrates' actual, more nuanced, quote runs as follows:
    • Those who directed the state in the time of Solon and Cleisthenes did not establish a polity which … trained the citizens in such fashion that they looked upon insolence as democracy, lawlessness as liberty, impudence of speech as equality, and licence to do what they pleased as happiness, but rather a polity which detested and punished such men and by so doing made all the citizens better and wiser.
      • Areopagiticus, 7.20 (Norlin)
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